WebSummit 2023: A Glimpse into the Future of Technology and Innovation

In the vibrant and charming city of Lisbon, Portugal, WebSummit 2023 unfolded, a massive gathering of tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders who converged to explore the frontiers of innovation and shape the future of technology.

Lisbon provided the perfect setting having become a popular destination for tech talent and remote workers, including myself. There are many reasons why Lisbon has built such as strong tech community, and despite the Mayor of Lisbon’s claims to the contrary during his Centre Stage appearance, the mild-sunny weather is definitely number one.  

Lisbon didn’t let us down as the sun shone over four days, from November 13th to 16th. The event buzzed with energy and excitement, as participants immersed themselves in a whirlwind of keynotes, panels, workshops, startup pitches, and networking opportunities, once they had recovered from the inevitable overwhelming feeling when arriving on days one. Returning for my 2nd year, when confronted by the sheer scale of the event, covering 5 bustling pavilions plus the Centre Stage arena, the size of the event was no less impressive.

WebSummit 2023 received generally positive reviews from the over 70,000 attendees from 153 countries. With 43% of attendees being female, there was a significant increase in female representation at the event. In my opinion, this is a positive development and will hopefully have a positive impact on the tech industry. 

Future Woman in Tech: Louise Maclean with her daughter

Future Woman in Tech: Louise Maclean with her daughter

On the final day of the event, I was joined by my 6-year-old daughter, who had a great time thanks to EDP’s slide, and who may herself be a future woman in tech. She also proved to be a handy icebreaker and promoter for SK. Now, let’s look at the key takeaways that got the tech community talking.  

The Centaur Effect: Hybrid Companies Redefining Business 

One of the most prominent themes at WebSummit 2023 was the rise of centaur companies. A term was coined at WebSummit 2023, for organisations that seamlessly blend the traditional and digital worlds, leveraging the strengths of both to disrupt and transform industries. 

These hybrid entities are transforming industries like healthcare, finance, and retail, leveraging technology to enhance their core offerings and reach new markets. The rise of centaurs is fuelled by the convergence of two key trends: 

Digital Transformation: The rapid adoption of digital technologies is transforming industries across the board. Companies are embracing digital platforms and data analytics to enhance their operations and reach new markets. 

Erosion of Traditional Industry Boundaries: Industry boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred as companies leverage technology to expand beyond their traditional core competencies. For instance, banks are offering insurance products, retail companies are providing e-commerce solutions, and media companies are venturing into content creation and distribution. 

Centaur companies are poised to play a major role in the future of business as the lines between the physical and digital worlds continue to blur. They are well-positioned to innovate, disrupt markets, and redefine the way we interact with brands and services. 

A session titled “The Centaur Effect: How Hybrid Companies Are Redefining Business” delved into the characteristics and challenges of centaur companies. Speakers highlighted the importance of striking a balance between traditional business acumen and digital innovation, emphasising the need for adaptability and agility in the ever-evolving tech landscape. 

AI: A Double-Edged Sword 

As with the 2022 event, Artificial intelligence (AI) dominated discussions throughout WebSummit. What was interesting to see is how quickly this area is moving, aspects of AI that were a possibility last year are a reality this year. And there is more to come, with this year’s participants grappling with its vast potential while acknowledging the possible risks and ethical implications of its misuse.  

With the rapid advancement of AI there was much discussion on this topic, and the calls for regulation grew louder at WebSummit. Participants discussed the sensitive balance between regulating AI to prevent misuse and stifling innovation. They emphasised the need for nuanced regulation that can adapt to the ever-evolving nature of AI technology. 

Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at MIT, discussed how AI can (and should) be regulated, and the impact it may have on the tech industry.  

A session titled “Regulating AI: A Balancing Act” explored the challenges and potential solutions for regulating AI in a way that protects individual rights, promotes responsible development, and fosters innovation.  

A panel discussion titled “AI: Liberating or Destroying Humanity?” brought together experts to debate the transformative power of AI and the need for responsible development and deployment. 

Speakers raised concerns about the potential for AI to aggravate inequality, erode workers’ rights, and even pose existential threats to humanity. They emphasised the importance of ensuring that AI is developed and used ethically, with a focus on benefiting society as a whole. 

And a number of speakers, throughout the event, highlighted the need for international collaboration and ongoing dialogue to establish effective regulatory frameworks. 

The Transformative Power of Esports 

Esports, or electronic sports, have emerged as a global phenomenon, captivating audiences with their fast-paced action, skilled players, and competitive spirit. The topic of Esports continued its spectacular rise at WebSummit this year, with discussions about its growth, viewership, and potential to reach mainstream audiences.  

Speakers explored the challenges and opportunities of esports monetisation, as well as the importance of building a sustainable ecosystem to support the industry’s growth. But beyond the thrill of competition, esports hold the potential to transform various industries and societies.

Social and Cultural Integration: Esports foster a sense of community and belonging, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds around a shared passion. This can break down social barriers and promote inclusivity. 

Economic Growth and Job Creation: Esports generate substantial revenue through sponsorships, merchandise sales, and media rights, creating employment opportunities in various sectors. 

Technological Advancements: The demand for esports infrastructure, including high-speed internet connectivity and virtual reality technologies, drives innovation and technological advancements. 

Brain Health and Education: Esports can enhance cognitive skills, strategic thinking, and problem-solving abilities, while educational platforms utilise gaming to engage and educate students. 

Brand Recognition and Marketing: Esports provides a platform for brands to connect with a passionate and engaged audience, enhancing brand recognition and marketing opportunities. 

A session titled “Esports: The Next Big Thing?” looked at the factors driving the growth of esports and the impact it is having on traditional sports. Speakers emphasised the need for more investment and innovation in the esports industry, particularly in areas such as fan engagement, sponsorship, and content creation. 

The Importance of Mental Health in Tech 

A topic I found particulate interesting at this year’s event was the focus on mental health in the tech industry, with sessions and discussions addressing the challenges and support resources available to founders and employees.  

The tech industry is known for its fast-paced, demanding environment, which can contribute to mental health challenges among employees. Long hours, intense pressure to innovate, and the constant availability of technology can lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout. There were sessions highlighting the challenges of building a successful startup and the importance of prioritising mental health. Speakers encouraged founders to seek support and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage the pressures and stresses of the tech industry. 

A session titled “Founders’ Mental Health: A Secret We Can’t Keep” shared personal experiences of founders who have struggled with mental health issues and the impact it had on their businesses. Speakers emphasised the need for open conversations about mental health in the tech industry to create a more supportive and inclusive environment.  It was positive to see the contributing factors and their impact of mental health of tech workers being discussed and these concerns being addressed.  

The Power of Storytelling 

As a Digital Marketing Strategist, the ability of companies to connect with their audiences and build trust through storytelling was the recurring theme at WebSummit that I found most interesting and inspiring. By weaving compelling stories, brands can connect with their audience on a deeper level, foster brand loyalty, and drive business growth.  

As technology continues to evolve, storytelling is even more crucial, where attention spans are shorter, and competition is fiercer. Brands that master the art of storytelling will be well-positioned to thrive and achieve long-term success. Speakers stressed the importance of authenticity and transparency in storytelling, and shared insights on how to craft compelling narratives that resonate with customers and investors. 

A session titled “Money, Trust, and Storytelling: The Secrets to Winning Business” delved into the art of storytelling as a strategic communication tool exploring the role of storytelling in building brand reputation and driving growth. Speakers emphasised the need to tell stories that are true to the company’s values and mission, and to connect with audiences on an emotional level. 


WebSummit 2023 served as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of technology and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. It was a gathering of minds that sought to shape the future, to make a positive impact on the world, and to redefine what is possible. As we look towards the future, the lessons and insights from WebSummit will undoubtedly shape the way we approach technology, innovation, and the future of our world. 

Louise Maclean, Digital Strategist and Head of Client Accounts, SK 
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